Facebook bans Holocaust denial

In a major announcement overnight Facebook has reversed a long standing policy and announced that Holocaust denial will now be banned on their platforms. The Online Hate Prevention Institute has been tackling Holocaust denial on Facebook and other platforms, and pushing the company to alter this policy, since we were founded in 2012. We strongly welcome Facebook’s new policy of banning Holocaust denial and we will be working closely with Facebook to remove a range of content which is now in breach of this policy. The move comes a little over a year after YouTube banned Holocaust denial.

Dr Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, commented on the news, “Facebook’s change of heart on Holocaust denial is greatly welcomed. It has been a long standing and painful part of the online world. The message from Facebook that Holocaust denial was not a breaching of community standards, was deeply painful to Holocaust survivors and the Jewish community generally, but also sent entirely the wrong message. It is Holocaust denial which feeds into white supremacy and the rise of far-right racism and violent extremism. Facebook has acted in the past to remove content where it could under other policies, but the problematic message remained. Now that’s gone and it is a huge relief.”

Dr Andre Oboler, who is also one of the Australian Government’s representatives to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, has been involved in this issue right from the start. Back in 2008 Dr. Oboler published his leading paper on “Antisemitism 2.0” which noted how antisemitism was being normalised in society through social media. An advanced copy of the paper was release in February that year at Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism. The paper highlighted the role of Holocaust denial as key driver of this normalisation.

Antisemitism 2.0 is the use of online social networking and content collaboration to share demonization, conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial, and classical antisemitic motifs with a view to creating social acceptability for such content.

Andre Oboler, ‘Online Antisemitism 2.0. “Social Antisemitism” on the “Social Web”‘, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs , 2008.

Back then MySpace was larger than Facebook. Organisations that tackled antisemitism put the problem of antisemitism in the too hard basket. In addition to Dr Oboler, new online organisations like the Jewish Internet Defence Force (JIDF), and well as individual activists like Brian Cuban (Mark Cuban’s brother) were at the forefront of tackling the problem. It was private correspondence from Dr Oboler in August 2008 to both Brian Cuban and the JIDF which highlighted how easy it was to find Holocaust denial on Facebook.

In August 2008 journalist Christoph Gunkel from FAZ wrote about the rise in online antisemitism. In his article he noted how Facebook ignored questions about a Holocaust denial group and it remained online. In e-mails with Dr Oboler about his article he highlighted how shocked he was at Facebook lack of response on Holocaust denial and how they could eventually face penalties for violating German law.

In an October 2008 Dr Oboler advised activists that:

“In Germany you have the added advantage that Holocaust denial is a criminal offence. That means what you are doing is legal and promotes social accountability, while what the Holocaust deniers do is illegal and threatens to ignite hatred that could lead to violence in the short term and in the longer term could make things like the neo Nazi movement more acceptable to society. The last thing Germany needs is a new generation of youth being brainwashed to support hate and racism.”

Correspondence in October 2008

The story of Facebook’s early response was document by Dr Oboler in a 2009 paper on “Facebook, Holocaust Denial, and Anti-Semitism 2.0“. The paper notes how the company developing their systems to allowed Holocaust denial to be banned in countries where it was illegal while allowing it to remain for the rest of the Facebook community. The article notes how the decision not to remove Holocaust denial was referred to as policy by senior Facebook executives.

In 2011 Dr Oboler and Adv. David Matas (from B’nai Brith Canada) co-chaired a meeting of international experts looking at online antisemitism for the Israeli. Facebook was represented in the meeting by Richard Allen. The problem of Facebook’s policy on Holocaust denial was strongly raised in the meeting and again in follow up correspondence. The reply Facebook formulated became their standard response to the question.

Since its formation in 2012 the Online Hate Prevention Institute has continued the pressure on this issue, including in direct conversations with Facebook, in international forums, and in collaborations with other organisations in Australia and overseas. Most recently, just weeks ago, the OHPI and Executive Council of Australian Jewry raised the issue with Facebook staff in Australia. Last week we presented to the Jewish Holocaust Centre on the topic of Holocaust denial, highlighting Facebook’s policy and examples of Holocaust denial on the platform.

Dr Oboler added that “Facebook had been stubbornly holding on to the policy of not banning Holocaust denial while all other poor policies from the early days of Facebook fell by the wayside over the years. This move signals a major change at Facebook that goes well beyond this policy. It signals that Facebook has now accepted that human dignity is of critical importance, and that community standards must take greater account of the views of experts and the community.”

We look forward to working with Facebook to clean up the remaining items of Holocaust denial and distortion. We’ll work with Facebook to build a greater understanding of Holocaust distortion, including the rehabilitation of the reputation of those responsible for atrocities in the Holocaust, which can be far more difficult to identify than the blatant Holocaust denial which we hope will soon vanish from the platform entirely.

Comments and support

Comments on this article can be made on this Facebook post or via Twitter in reply to this tweet.

You can support our work, including the work that needs to be done to notify Facebook of the instances of Holocaust denial which can now be removed under this policy. Donations can be made internationally via Credit Card or PayPal through the PayPal Giving Fund (receipts are sent automatically) or by direct bank transfer to our Public Fund, Account name: Online Hate Prevention Fund, BSB: 083-088 Account: 73-337-6910. If you make direct transfer to our bank, please e-mail us at ohpi AT ohpi.org.au so we can send you a receipt manually.

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